Russia Monitor: As McCain Passes, Trumpland Sinks Deeper In Its Messy Moral Morass


“I looked in Mr. Putin’s eyes and I saw three letters—a K, a G, and B.”

— Max Boot, John McCain Leaves The Stage When We Need Him Most (8/25/18)


By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (8/27/18)

Dear Fellow Readers,

The above quote is from Max Boot, a conservative never-Trumper, writing for the Washington Post. Thanks to a reader, an abridged version is here: Conservative Columnist Calls On GOP To Step Up And Fill McCain’s Shoes By Opposing ‘amoral demagogue’ Trump.

Boot offered his eulogy for Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who died Saturday. Boot highlighted a major difference between McCain, Trump and the party of Trump – “he (McCain) was never cruel or bigoted”. Trump by comparison is defined by his cruelty while refusing to acknowledge McCain’s death aside from the briefest of condolences to the family.

Boot offers this in conclusion:

“McCain’s passing, tragic at any time, is all the sadder now. His dedication to America’s global leadership, advocacy for human rights, steadfast opposition to despots, devotion to bipartisanship, willingness to break with his own party, insistence on putting the nation’s interest above self-interest, and, above all, his unwavering sense of right and wrong — all are desperately needed at a time when his party has embraced an amoral, narcissistic demagogue who fawns over tyrants and flirts with isolationism and protectionism and white nationalism. Trump hated McCain and insulted him at every turn because McCain was everything Trump is not — and everything that we need in our politics today but tragically lack.”

History will remember McCain favorably while Trump will be vilified.

The following highlights the stark contrast and stands for what the Republican party has become as the party of Trump: Arizona Republican Blames McCain Of Dying Just To Hurt Her Campaign.

The sub-head seems subdued since Trump has gifted us with so many lessons with narcissism – Senate candidate Kelli Ward’s comment has been condemned as “very narcissistic.”

Here’s Ward’s comment:

“I wonder if it were just a coincidence that Sen McCain released his statement on the kickoff day of Kelli Ward’s bus tour or if it was a plan to take media attention off her campaign,” the staffer wrote. “I’m not saying it was on purpose but it’s quite interesting.”

Ward’s controversial bus tour was making headlines before her crass statement about McCain’s death: Kelli Ward Associated With Conspiracy Theorists And Racists Long Before Mike Cernovich.

Ward’s supporters are a who’s-who of the current Republican party starting with Wisconsin congressional candidate Paul Nehlen, though it should be noted that even Ward distanced herself from Nehlen after having stood with him as they “both ran against powerful establishment incumbents in 2016”.

At the top of her list is Mike Cernovich who forged his reputation with Trump supporters by promoting the false theory of ‘Pizza Gate’. Cernovich and his ilk may thrive in the climate of Trump’s party, but he is an early example of the danger represented by divisive and fear-mongering conspiracies. In this case, a man carrying two firearms walked into a pizza restaurant in the D.C. area, pointing an assault rifle at an employee toself-investigate ‘Pizza Gate’.

Cernovich quotes include defining diversity as “white genocide”. Ward admits that Cernovich “has an audience that we want to reach” but pooh-poohs her association as nothing more than “a hook to get you guys (the media) interested in seeing the bus tour”.

While we tsk-tsk the intent of Ward at our own risk, keep in mind, she’s running as a Republican candidate against former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, 86, who was pardoned by Trump after his conviction for criminal contempt tied to his harsh treatment of undocumented immigrants and willfully ignoring court orders.


Three big steps

When McCain looked Putin in the eye and condemned him as KGB, Trump has yet to see an opportunity or need to condemn Putin. And nor should we expect Trump to ever criticize Putin given the help he received from the former KGB agent during the 2016 election: The Three Illegal Acts That May Have Helped Trump Win The Presidency.

The Washington Post offers a useful summary with an outstanding graphic depiction of the parallel efforts of Russia hacking and social media campaigns and the American Media Inc. chairman David Pecker and former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to breaking federal campaign finance law with hush-money payments over (alleged) Trump affairs with porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal.

Philip Bump keeps one question in front of us: Did these three illegal acts swing the election?

“… the question is not whether laws were broken in an attempt to aid Trump’s candidacy. It is evident from Cohen’s testimony and the existence of the hacked materials that they were. The question is whether those acts made the difference in the narrowly decided contest.

“That question is almost impossible to answer. It was just fewer than 78,000 votes that gave Trump the presidency, 0.06 percent of the votes cast. But those 78,000 votes were in three states — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — and it is not clear that any of the three acts outlined definitively shifted enough votes to propel that margin for Trump.

“What became more clear this week is Trump’s campaign was aided by many more surreptitious acts violating federal law than we realized — and President Trump himself is now clearly implicated in aiding at least one.”

Bump notes many loose ends with Trump-Russia corruption, like the arrest of alleged Russian spy Maria Butina and her relationship with Russian banker and oligarch Alexander Torshin, the NRA and Trump Org. executive and Donnie Trump Jr.


But what about Michael Cohen?

Did Michael Cohen commit a crime? According to reporting in the Washington Post: Trump Says Michael Cohen Didn’t Commit Crimes. He’s Wrong.

The writer is Trevor Potter, president of the Campaign Legal Center and a Republican former chairman of the Federal Election Commission. Potter’s sub-head is a good summary: Campaign finance law is clear. And Cohen clearly broke it.

Until new information comes forward regarding Trump’s corruption, this is a question currently debated and misunderstood, possibly intentionally. Who better than Trump to demonstrate misunderstanding over the crime? MSNBC host Chris Matthews shows the Trump interview on Fox & Friends with a follow-up discussion. If you enjoy watching Trump try to complete sentences, this is clip’s for you. 

Potter summarizes:

“But Trump and his defenders are wrong. What we know about the facts would provide substantial evidence to any jury that these payments were all about influencing the election at a crucial moment, rather than purely personal matters — and thus, the payments were violations of federal election laws. The fact that Cohen was reimbursed by Trump for the payments the next year does not change the fact that Cohen’s initial payment was illegal, and we now know that AMI was never reimbursed by Trump at all.”

Trump and his apologists prefer to debate the law while ignoring the facts. Given Cohen pleaded guilty the facts are not directly in the public eye as yet, but:

“That evidence, as laid out in the plea agreement, was substantial. First, a blog and supermarket tabloid reported on the Trump-Daniels relationship in 2011, and then IN Touch magazine interviewed her. Cohen wrote a letter on behalf of Trump at that time, threatening to sue if the magazine published. He did not, however, offer Daniels any money for her silence about private citizen Trump then — apparently any potential embarrassment to the Trump family was not worth a hush payment back in 2011. Indeed, we now know that Daniels’s attorney first approached Cohen in early October 2016 to suggest a financial payment, but he “initially balked at the idea” of paying her hush money, and did not execute an agreement or pay her anything. It was only after the crisis for the Trump campaign created by the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape later in October 2016 that Cohen suddenly developed an urgent desire to buy the former porn star’s silence.

“Despite what Trump has claimed, it makes no difference that he later reimbursed Cohen for his contribution. That would just make Cohen’s payment a loan to the Trump campaign. And federal lawtreats a loan to a campaign as a contribution, subject to contribution limits and disclosure requirements. Further, corporations are prohibited from making contributions, so the payments by AMI — which Cohen states were part of an advance agreement with Trump — were likely illegal, as well. In each of these instances, Cohen admitted to engaging in his activity knowingly and willfully, which is the standard for criminal conduct.”


Trump’s Pecker flip-flops on him

Will we ever see the evidence? We may very well as ‘Trump Fears Pecker Leaks’ … feel free to insert your own Pecker pun at any time: Prosecutors Grant Immunity To Enquirer’s David Pecker.

“Prosecutors reportedly granted immunity to David Pecker, the CEO of the company that publishes National Enquirer, as part of their investigation into President Trump‘s longtime lawyer Michael Cohen.

“Pecker met with the prosecution to discuss Cohen’s involvement in Trump’s hush-money deals with women leading up to the 2016 presidential election, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.”

But Pecker doesn’t stand alone: “Dylan Howard, the chief content officer at American Media, the Enquirer’s publisher, will also not be criminally charged, according to the Journal. 

Pecker and Howard flip, and don’t forget Cohen. Or Gates …or Papadopoulos… or Flynn. But they aren’t the only ones, Pecker points the way and Howard follows, but also a really big fish flipped: Allen Weisselberg, the Man Who Knows Donald Trump’s Financial Secrets, Has Agreed to Become a Coöperating Witness.

If there is anyone Trump fears more than Cohen, Trump Org. CFO Allen Weisselberg might be that person:

“On Friday, the Wall Street Journal broke the story that Weisselberg had been granted immunity by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York so that he could share information in the investigation of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney and dealmaker. It is safe to say that the entire world of Trump watchers—those journalists, political folks, and advocates who carefully monitor every bit of Trump news—went bonkers. Weisselberg is the man to whom those people most want to speak. He is also the man who has, for decades, been the most circumspect.”

Weisselberg represents risk to Trump for the campaign, but also for Trump Organization and the Trump Foundation. New York State Attorney General Barbara Underwood sued the Trump Foundation last month.

Remember the taint surrounding Trump Organization, much of which The New Yorker details:

“There are many open questions about how, precisely, the Trump Organization has made and spent its money in recent years. There is, for example, a question about where Trump got more than two hundred million dollars in cash to buy and lavishly upgrade a money-losing golf course in Scotland. In a deal in Azerbaijan, Trump knowingly did business with a family that is widely suspected of laundering moneyfor Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. The F.B.I. has reportedly investigated the source of funds for a Trump-branded property in Vancouver, Canada; while the Trump hotel in Toronto also has suspicious funding.”

It’s not only Trump at risk as Trump-Russia corruption gains traction; Trump created a trust for his financial holdings. Not a blind trust, but a revocable trust with two trustees – Allen Weisselberg and Donald Trump Jr.

Trump’s family is now only one layer removed from special counsel Mueller’s investigation of Trump-Russia corruption. So close that Trump now wails, ““flipping, like Michael Cohen should be “illegal””.

And that comment was made just before the news became public about Weisselberg’s immunity.

Poor Donald just doesn’t understand why secret deals facilitating illegal activities shouldn’t be protected by the courts.


But they still love him, right?

Given Trump’s constant attacks on Mueller, the FBI, the Justice Department and any other person or institution that might hold him accountable, isn’t he winning the war of public opinion? Won’t that help him?

No and no.

A Fox News poll shows Mueller’s approval at 59% and the polling was done before a jury convicted former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort on eight counts of tax and bank fraud, and before Cohen pleaded guilty to eight counts of campaign finance violations. For comparison, Trump was at 45% and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was at 52%. Senate leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had the lowest approval rating at 22%. (How does McConnell manage to stay that high?)

But Trump loyalists, will save him, right? Maybe not: Manafort Juror Paula Duncan: Manafort Is Guilty, But Mueller Probe Is A Witch Hunt.

“Juror Paula Duncan found there “was so much (other) evidence that Manafort’s guilt was obvious”. “I wanted Paul Manafort to be innocent, but he wasn’t,” Duncan told NBC News.

“Given the evidence she voted to find Manafort guilty. She also said:

“Duncan said she did not hold it against Trump that he allowed a man who was committing crimes to help run his campaign.

“”He was running Donald Trump’s campaign in my opinion because he was brilliant as a political strategist,” Duncan said, noting that even the government’s witnesses said as much.

“Trump could not have been expected to vet Manafort’s finances, she added.”

She voted based on the evidence. Trump was not on trial.

“Paula Duncan didn’t wear her red “Make America Great Again” hat when she arrived in court to serve on Paul Manafort‘s jury.

“She kept it in her car, she tells NBC News.”


“If I ever got impeached,” Donald Trump

We’ll end with two views of “how will this end”, and we’ll give Trump the final world.

MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell has a bit of fun pulling together Trump’s opinions such as, “if I ever get impeached” while acknowledging – we are now beyond a question of corruption, we’re debating Trump’s impeachment: Lawrence: Trump Talks Impeachment, As Trump Allies Talk To Fed Prosecutors.

Eliot Cohen writing for The Atlantic offers his ideas of: How This Will End: Sooner Or Later, Tyrants Are Always Abandoned By Their Followers.

Here is Cohen’s prediction and excellent assessment of the likely outcome:

“A tyrant is unloved, and although the laws and institutions of the United States have proven a brake on Trump, his spirit remains tyrannical—that is, utterly self-absorbed and self-concerned, indifferent to the suffering of others, knowing no moral restraint. He expects fealty and gives none. Such people can exert power for a long time, by playing on the fear and cupidity, the gullibility and the hatreds of those around them. Ideological fervor can substitute for personal affection and attachment for a time, and so too can blind terror and sheer stupidity, but in the end, these fall away as well.”

Hold that up against Trump’s personal defense and you’ll see his fear as reinforcement of Cohen’s prediction.

As The Hill reported, during Trump’s cozy interview with Fox News: 

  • Trump’s version is, “I don’t know how you can impeach somebody who’s done a great job.”  He adds:
  • Trump said from the White House gardens that the market would crash if he were forced out of office: “I think everybody would be very poor,” he said, before pointing to his head. “Because without this thinking, you would see numbers that you wouldn’t believe.”

As Cohen says, “…utterly self-absorbed and self-concerned, indifferent to the suffering of others”. We come full circle – Boot reminded us of Trump’s cruelty in addition to his indifference to suffering.

Trump will not be treated kindly by history.